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Mental Health Mondays: Crafting

Posted on May 18th, 2020 by

We are not mental health professionals. If you are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like anxiety or depression, or they are impacting your daily life, please reach out to professionals who can help you. If you need immediate help, use the National Suicide Hotline, 1-800-273-8255, which offers online chats as well. Jewish Community Services also offer help to people experiencing emotional crises.

We aim to provide some tips and guides to help those who are self-isolating and to connect with our JMM community. These ideas might not work for everyone, but we hope that by starting the conversation about mental health, we can inspire you to take a moment to breathe and reflect on what you need today to feel good.

Being in quarantine has led many people to look for and pick up new crafting activities such as knitting, sewing, and baking. This is not a new phenomenon, as we can look back to the adult coloring book craze of 2015, where over $12 million adult coloring books sold. But why are these kinds of activities so appealing when people are stressed? There hasn’t been a lot of research on the mental health benefits of crafting, but people often claim that their hobbies help keep them happy and balanced.

This vintage coloring book comes from Bragar-Gutman’s department store. Today there are lots of different kinds of coloring books for folks young and old. Check out #ColorOurCollections for a ton of free, Museum-themed options!

A possible theory is the ability to tap into the phenomenon dubbed the “flow”, by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He describes the flow as a state of ecstasy for a creator, who is so focused on their work that they pay no attention to the outside world. This state makes them feel like music or words are coming out freely from them, and they lose sense of their body, maybe even forgetting that they are hungry or tired. He describes it more in this Ted talk, speaking specifically of those who are highly trained and skilled in their fields. Though this Ted talk is a little dated, Csikszentmihalyi has continuously commented on different trends and fads for stress-relief, like coloring pages for adults. By focusing completely on a specific task, such as a complex page in a coloring book, someone can find that similar flow state of timelessness. They are able to let go of troubles on their mind and focus on the task at hand for a few moments. Though coloring is not a substitute for proper therapy (which we talked about last week) focusing on a single, creative task, can be a way to achieve the feeling of the flow and find respite from life’s worries.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi originally started his career by figuring out why people who had experienced World War II were still unhappy after they had found security in jobs and homes after the war.

Additionally, getting creative can help someone’s sense of accomplishment. By knitting a scarf or painting a landscape, being able to see the fruits of your labor on display is a huge boost to confidence and can even release feel-good hormones. The effects are multiplied when sharing these creative endeavors with friends. Being able to create beautiful gifts for those you love can strengthen your relationships and shows people that you’re thinking of them.

Arts and crafts are not just for young ones. Crafting can help improve brain activity and possibly even help counter-act neurological diseases like dementia. More study needs to be done to prove these benefits, but certain crafts can definitely improve finger and hand dexterity, keep people practicing math, and encourage our brains to think differently than we do in our daily lives. There are so many different crafts to choose from, it’s worth a try!

I’ve been working on this quilt for years. Though I’m still not finished, it’s amazing to look at all the pieces come together into a huge masterpiece!

If you are able to buy the supplies, my favorite craft is knitting. I love being able to create garments out of just yarn and needles, and finding new patterns. And the best part is, people always love getting hand-knitted scarves, hats, and gloves for holiday and birthday presents.

Miniature painting is a great way to develop skills and creativity. This piece was created by Benet Reynolds, @holyfireman on Instagram.

Another supply-heavy but the unique craft is mini painting. A favorite of this writer’s partner, miniature painting, or other types of 3D painting is a great way to get into art. You don’t have to figure out how something looks on a canvas, you simply color in the different parts of a mini, almost like a 3D coloring book! There are lots of techniques and styles to master as well, making it a great, long-term hobby.

If you don’t have access to a lot of supplies, you can always look into origami. While the art of paper folding may seem simple, there are lots of designs and shapes to create to make masterpieces to display. And this is a great craft to share with a little one! May we suggest trying out a hopping paper frog as your first origami attempt?

From coloring books to making candles, to hand lettering to woodworking, there are so many ways to engage your hands and improve your mood. Try something out this week and share the results with us! Or, if you’re a veteran crafter, show us some pics of your favorite finished piece! We’d love to hear from you.


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Chinese Food On Christmas

Posted on December 28th, 2011 by

A blog post by Assistant Director Deborah Cardin.

When asked during her Supreme Court confirmation hearings how she spent Christmas Day, Judge Elena Kagan responded, “… like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant.” It’s become something of an inside joke that this is how Jews spend Christmas, eating out at Chinese restaurants and going to the movies.  Despite the fact that today there are many more dining options available on Christmas, the practice of eating out in Chinese restaurants endures as a cherished tradition to be shared with family and friends.

The JMM’s recently opened exhibition, Chosen Food: Cuisine, Culture, and American Jewish Identity, provides scholarly context for the connection between Jews and Chinese food. The Jewish attraction to Chinese food to Jews has roots in the early 20th century when Jewish immigrants lived in close proximity to Chinese restaurants inNew York’sLower East Side. Despite the fact that the restaurants were not kosher, the use of pork and seafood was well disguised in sauces and there was no worry of mixing meat and dairy (thus leading to the notion of “safe treyfe”). As Jews moved out to the suburbs, Chinese restaurants followed recognized the loyalty of this particular clientele.

Tearoom in Chinatown, New York City, N.Y. Feb. 18, 1903. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. CP 33.2011.4

The Christmas/Chinese food connection has been highlighted in comedy routines and pop culture references and has even been satirized in song.Baltimore’s own Brandon Walker had a YouTube hit with his 2007 music video, “Chinese Food on Christmas” that included these lyrics:

“I eat Chinese food on Christmas.

Go to the movie theater, too.

‘Cause there just ain’t much else to do on Christmas

When you’re a Jew!”

(Check out the full video here: http:///

Recognizing an opportunity to celebrate this great Jewish tradition of Christmas and Chinese food, the JMM devoted our annual Christmas Day bash to Chanukah, Christmas, and Everything Chinese. On Sunday, December 25, nearly 260 people joined us for festivities that featured Chinese food, games, and crafts. Guests of all ages enjoyed sampling Chinese treats (generously provided by David Chu’s China Bistro) as they gathered around card tables for competitive games of mahjong, another treasured Jewish pastime with Chinese roots, and Chinese checkers.

We even offered lessons, courtesy of Lois Madow, president of the American Mah-Jongg Association, for people interested in learning how to play. (For a comprehensive list of mahjong rules, check out http:/// Several of my colleagues and I sat in on a lesson, and while I can’t say we understand all the ins and outs of this complicated game (although by the end we could distinguish between a “bam” and a “crack”), we had a blast learning and are even planning a few lunchtime games to sharpen our skills.

In another corner of our lobby, children (and adults too) patiently learned the art of origami (visit for the Chinese connection with origami) as they folded decorated pieces of paper into intricate designs including swans, flowers, and dreidels (there’s the Chanukah tie in!)

Other craft activities included paper lantern making, Chinese fan decorating, and beading.

Visitors learned about the Chinese signs of the zodiac and even had the opportunity to find out their corresponding sign on the Jewish zodiac which features traditional Jewish nosh (chopped liver, egg cream, bagel, etc.) instead of animals.

In the end, a good time was had by all!

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Jewish Party in the Park!

Posted on September 21st, 2011 by

A blog post by Community Outreach Coordinator Rachael Binning.

Picnicking in Druid Hill Park

This past Sunday the Jewish Museum of Maryland participated in the first annual Jewish Party in the Park, a festival celebrating the Jews and Jewish organizations of downtownBaltimore. The party included live music, vendors, a children’s area, and even a shofar blowing flash mob.

The Jewish Museum of Maryland was both a partner and a vendor at the event. The education department had a booth in the children’s area where we did crafts related to the holiday of Sukkot. Elena and I were very enthusiastic about creating crafts related to stargazing and constellations since an important aspect of building a sukkah is being able to see the starts through the schach, the roof covering usually made of palm leaves, bamboo sticks, or other branches.

I made sure to take a lot of photos that day, so I’d like to share some of them with you.

One of the highlights of the children’s area was the bounce house. I was pretty set on bouncing it in myself but unfortunately I never made it inside.

The other major highlight in the children’s area (besides the JMM tent of course) was the balloon making demonstration by “Balloons by Jon”. Jon made a life sized princess and motorcycle out of balloons. It was very impressive.

Kayam farms had a tent where they taught visitors about Jewish agriculture, which included displaying live chickens. They also sold some of their produce. Elena and I purchased mini gherkins, perhaps my new favorite healthy treat.

At the JMM tent Elena, Deborah, Ilene, and I taught children and their families about the starrs and how they relates to Sukkot. We were  impressed by how much knowledge many of the children already had about the constellations and the sky.

Last but not least, one of my personal highlights of the day was that both Ilene Dackman-Alon and Amy Smith, two JMM staff members, brought their dog to the park! Jack and Floyd were adorable and definitely attracted many children to our tent.

Especially considering that this was the first Party in the Park I would call the event a success. I’m already looking forward to attending again next year.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland